A new wave of “tough on crime” policy is taking shape in the U.S., driven by a presidential administration that tirelessly stirs fears of internal and external threats. The full consequences of this new crackdown will not be known for some time. But decades of research on the effects of aggressive law enforcement provide a strong basis for understanding the challenges that lie ahead. In political rhetoric, the law-breaking individual takes center stage. Calls for stiffer penalties focus on actions within the criminal justice system. In reality, however, the fallout from get-tough law enforcement spirals outward, reaching into all corners of targeted individuals’ lives and creating devastating collateral consequences for the people who surround them. In the case of undocumented immigrant victims of gender-based violence, aggressive law enforcement can counteract vital protections and supports.
Anti-violence advocates had grave concerns about the Trump Administration. Its first 100 days have done little to allay those fears. Instead, we’ve seen a stunning lack of concern regarding the impact of leaders and policies on gender-based violence in the U.S. and internationally. If the Administration wanted to change the perception that it cares little about gender violence, fully funding VAWA, committing to continued enforcement of criminal and civil laws, and protecting the health, welfare, and dignity of those subjected to gender-based violence would be a good start. For victims of gender-based violence, such support cannot come soon enough.
The growing Trump Cabinet poses several concerns for gender equality and the recognition and support of gender diversity[i]. Many Americans are especially dismayed by the nomination of Cabinet members with a recorded history of anti-LGBTQ statements, business practices, and Congressional votes. For gender-based criminal justice policies, such as hate crime laws and anti-transgender “bathroom bills,” the confirmations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, III and Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price have important implications.
In 1996, the suicide of a young Texas man named Rodney Hulin, Jr. in the wake of multiple sexual assaults partially spurred Congress to unanimously pass the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The purpose of the nation’s first federal civil law addressing sexual violence behind bars was to call for nationwide data collection on the problem of prisoner rape and federal grants to help states combat it within prisons, jails, police lockups, youth facilities, immigration detention facilities, and community corrections. While PREA was developed with good intentions by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) in concert with prisoner rights’ advocates from across the country, and has been lauded by the American Civil Liberties Union and Just Detention International, it falls far short of what is needed to protect all prisoners, especially women, people of color, transgender individuals, and disabled people.
The Democrats, Republicans, and the White House are in the midst of hashing out a large scale infrastructure bill in the coming weeks and months. Aside from addressing the maintenance needs of much of the United States, infrastructure spending is billed as a way to boost jobs, and stimulate the economy. President Trump has also called cities dangerous war zones throughout the campaign and since taking office – a claim that has been challenged. While he has not focused in his statements on violence against women within urban areas, it is possible that his proposed new infrastructure spending could be an opportunity to address gender-based violence and some of its affects.
Two important Trump education picks have either refused to endorse or openly criticized Title IX, the landmark 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded program. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, refused to answer whether she would enforce the law during her confirmation hearing, while Jerry Falwell Jr., Trump’s pick to lead a federal task force on higher education, has stated he would like to curb the rules that require colleges to investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX. What might a rollback of Title IX under the Trump administration imply for the incidence of campus sexual assault and campus climates? The challenges and opportunities to fight sexual assault on campus are better understood when we consider 1) legislation in place concerning campus sexual assault, and 2) the role of formal and informal institutions in the enforcement of these laws. Specifically, enforcement of existing formal rules has helped to create campus climates in which it is clear that sexual violence is not tolerated, and in which victims are encouraged to come forward and report crimes because they can expect a quick, protective response. A change in federal policy will bring about a corresponding and equally important change in informal institutions, sending a chill over campuses that have only recently begun to work in earnest against campus sexual assaults.
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